For Some Ohio Voters, Climate Change Is A Top Issue This Election
As part of WOSU’s 2020 election coverage, we asked listeners what issues they’re prioritizing this year.
A recent national study suggests the American response to climate change is becoming more important to voters - a trend that may be playing out in Ohio.
Jeff Reiswig runs an equine dentistry practice in Newark. In the middle of the barn, a team of veterinarians is working on a lightly sedated mare, as her foal neighs in a stall across the room.
Reiswig shows off a large white box on a wall.
“This is the inverter, supplying all the electricity for this building,” he says excitedly.
The barn is carbon neutral, thanks to the inverter and a solar array on the roof. Reiswig admits that, in a purely business sense, installing the equipment wasn’t in his best interest. He sees it as a sort of green tax for all the energy he’s used over the years.
“I can definitely see just changes that have happened in my lifetime, in the way weather seems to be more extreme,” Reiswig says. “And even if those might be normal variations, there are other things, I mean, I can’t walk anywhere in the world without seeing plastic on the ground.”
Reiswig wants urgency on the environment from politicians in Congress and the White House. So far he hasn’t seen it. He’s not sold yet on any of the 2020 candidates, and he thinks the solution is bigger than any one politician.
Still, he’s hopeful. Reiswig sees climate change as an innovation problem, and the country has always been good at that.
“I think minds develop in an era to deal with the problems that are going on in that era,” he says.
Jennifer Pick is less optimistic. She’s originally from Australia, but she’s lived in the U.S. for the past 20 years.
“I have children. I don’t have grandchildren, I’d like to have them one day,” she says. “But I have reached a decision that I will be telling my daughters not to bring children into this world, because I know an awful lot about what the consequences of climate change will look like.”
She lists a host of factors like natural disasters, failing agriculture, and increased global tension. She hasn't settled on a candidate either, noting she wishes it was an easier choice. She says that conversation with her daughters would have been unimaginable 10 or 15 years ago.
“On the contrary, I have a basement full of books and toys and things that I’ve carefully treasured for years and years because I wanted to share them with my grandchildren,” Pick says. “And it’s really only in the last 12 months that I’ve reached this conclusion.”
Pick hasn’t settled on a candidate, either, but says her ears pricked up when former Vice President Joe Biden brought up regenerative agriculture during a debate.
Pick and Reiswig are indicative of a larger movement: climate change is on the minds of more and more voters these days.
The change is evidence in a twice-annual politics and global warming study produced by Yale and George Mason University, which asks registered voters to rank 29 issues. John Kotcher, one of the study’s authors from George Mason, says classic issues like the economy and health care still top the list.
“What we find is that global warming is about middle of the pack, so 11 out of 29 different issues,” Kotcher says. “Although that has increased by six ranks since we asked this question previously back in April of 2019.”
More than 45% of registered voters said a candidate's position on global warming is "very important" to their decision in the 2020 presidential election. The authors found that ideas like rebates on energy efficient cars and appliances, generating solar or wind energy on public lands, and regulating CO2 all enjoy majority support among Democrats, independents and Republicans.
Still, there remains a stark partisan divide in concern. The most liberal respondents rank climate change their third most important issue, while the most conservative respondents put it dead last.
That’s not surprising for GOP strategist Bob Clegg. He says the issue has become heavily polarized, comparing it to the way people talk about guns. Clegg thinks most Republicans believe climate change is real, but their stance is more about politics than policy.
“It’s now become a lightning rod in politics, and people want to make a point by saying, 'Yeah, I’m going to show them, I’m going to put climate change as my very last priority,'” he says. “So today, I think it’s more of a political statement. I think 15-20 years ago it wasn’t that case, it was people actually truly believing that it wasn’t that big of a problem.”
In Kotcher’s study, only 7% of respondents said the climate was their biggest concern in selecting a candidate.
A recent poll by Baldwin Wallace University reached a similar conclusion. Out of eight choices, researchers found energy issues, like carbon emissions and climate change, ranked a distant fourth for Ohio voters behind the economy, health care and security.
What are the issues you care about most this election, and why do they matter to you? Submit your responses below.